Queen’s University’s time-saving tech solutions

Using Brightspace as a digital learning sandbox, the Smith School of Business re-engaged faculty and cut back on administrative burden

The problem was coming from inside the house

When it came to their learning management system, the IT staff at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business used to spend much of their energy just keeping the lights on.

The Business School used an LMS built in-house, and it simply sucked up too much time, says Troy St. John, associate director of IT for learning technology and application development.

When the school switched to Brightspace, it was like a weight had been lifted.

“The custom solution we had in place required a ton of resources dedicated to keeping it up and running,” he says. “We didn’t get a lot of time to add new or innovative things professors asked for. So they kind of stopped asking.”

Brightspace’s Valence API gave the IT team a new digital sandbox, allowing them to build cool and useful tools against the existing technology.

“Our program offers a really high-touch level of service to students,” he says. “And now, these new tools let us – and our faculty – deepen that commitment.”

Time saving through automation

The Business School started small, fixing some of the biggest administrative headaches first. For example, St. John points to the auto cover page creator. Per the Business School’s grading system, administrative staff was tasked with creating an individual cover page for each assignment submitted by students.

“When they received an assignment, with some classes as large as 160 students, someone from the admin office would pull down the assignments, download them, organize them in a certain way, print them up, sort them again, attach a cover letter to each, hand it off to faculty or a TA, and then uploaded it back up to Brightspace when the assignment was graded.”

This took, on average, two hours per assignment, per class – cutting deeply into the administration’s time.

Now, they simply have to choose a Dropbox from the current class and bulk download the assignment, which then auto-generates the coversheets. What used to take hours, is down to minutes.


“Students and professors are busy – we don’t want to waste their time with trivial tasks.”
Troy St. John, associate director of IT for learning technology and application development at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University

More time to build tools

Another big time-saver is the bulk photo upload tool the IT team developed.

Taking the onus off students, the team created a system that automatically uploaded the professionally taken university ID images to each individual account, he says, which saved upwards of two days of administrative work. As an added bonus, the auto-upload feature seems to have encouraged more students to fill out the rest of their profiles, which further engages them in the platform.

“Students and professors are busy – we don’t want to waste their time with trivial tasks,” says St. John.
While the time savings has been a huge benefit to the university, St. John says the biggest shift is that faculty are once again asking IT for help in creating new ways of interacting with students online.

“Selfishly, it gives us a lot of buy-in with the faculty,” he says. “Whenever they want to bring things to life, we have a place to do it.”

For example, following a number of professor requests, the team rolled out a peer and team review feature on Brightspace, linked to the platform’s Assignment Grader. The external applications allow students to evaluate both themselves and their team members, which creates a more open form of dialogue among the students, as well as with their professors.

Both applications, he says, started for a single course, but proved so popular they were rolled out to multiple courses within months of launch.

Good news travels quickly

The entire Brightspace platform has been so popular, there’s been increasing demand for it across the entire university – within two years of launch, all academic programs in the School of Business switched.

“We’ve been on Brightspace for a while, and we’re working with the rest of campus as they continue their roll-out,” he says. “The wheels don’t stop turning.”

 

Brightspace Excellence Award winner Troy St. John with D2L CEO John Baker
Brightspace Excellence Award winner Troy St. John with D2L CEO John Baker

 

This case was a Brightspace Excellence Integrations and Extensibility Award Winner for 2016.